Dear Pope Francis,
Last week, a speech by actress Emma Watson at the United Nations started floating around the internet. Being a fan of Ms. Watson, I watched out of curiosity. The speech was given as part of the UN’s He for She campaign, to empower both women and men to work for gender equality. She opens with her journey as a feminist and questioning gender-based stereotypes, and goes on to explain the importance of all people working together for change.
As I reflected on this speech, and other’s thoughts about it, I realized again how important it is that you are also calling for a deeper understanding of women, through your call for a theology of women.
Emma Watson makes an accurate observation when she notes that many women don’t want to identify as a ‘feminist’ because of the social connotations attached: the use of expressions that are “too strong…”, “aggressive, isolating, and anti-men”. I would stretch that say that the whole idea of developing a theology of women makes some people very uncomfortable, myself being one of them, for many of these same reasons.
I am one of those people who choose not to identify as a feminist, even though I agree with women’s rights, precisely because I have issues with some of the stereotypes that go along with the word. Even in theology, I wouldn’t say that I am a ‘feminist theologian’ because many women in this category are painted with the same stereotypes as their secular counter-parts.
It is precisely the presence of these stereotypes that make me glad that it was you, as a Pope, who called for a deeper theology of women. In some way, there is an authority behind this. I realize the fact that you are male and the head of a hierarchical structure probably counts against us on the proverbial feminist scoreboard. Nevertheless, it lends credence to the need because you are in this position of authority.
To the best of my knowledge, you haven’t shared any more thoughts on what exactly this theology of women world or should include, and perhaps that needs to be left to women (and could probably be the topic of another whole letter, or series of letters). However, something that I do know about this theology of women is that it needs to be balanced.
As Ms. Watson goes on to say in her speech, the He for She campaign is about giving equal voice to all people who are impacted by women’s equality. In much the same way, a theology of women needs to balance both the male-dominated Tradition of the Church with the reality it now seeks to embrace; a reality where women are taking on greater roles, both in the Church and in wider society. It can’t be about bashing the hierarchy, and turning over the Tradition for the sake of equality. Rather, it needs to be about bringing the Tradition into dialogue with the realities women now face. This isn’t something that can be done by one woman, but needs to be done by many. It also isn’t something that can be undertaken by women alone, but by laymen, and priests, and cardinals. You, Pope Francis, got the ball rolling, by saying that it needs to be done!
Following the rolling ball,